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VICTOR JOECKS: School district’s suicide crisis is worse than you think

Updated January 26, 2021 - 9:05 pm

It will take years to fully understand how much damage a year of school closures did to the mental health of Clark County children. The early indicators are heartbreaking.

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said recently that 18 district students have taken their lives since officials closed schools. That’s double the nine suicides in the previous year. One child was under 10 years old.

By itself, this is not proof that school closures contributed to the increase in suicides. Correlation doesn’t prove causation. Suicide is usually the result of many factors. The decision can be impulsive, too. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please stop reading and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

But when parents — and students themselves — specifically point to school closures and subsequent isolation as a factor, it’s imperative to listen. In a note, one district student said there was nothing for him to look forward to, according to a news report. The father of a recent district graduate who took his own life said the only disappointment his son had shared was the loss of extracurricular activities during his senior year.

This is happening around the country. A 16-year-old boy in Maine left behind a note describing the problems he had with isolation. He wrote that he felt “locked in this house.” Early in the pandemic, a father in Texas recorded a viral video blaming isolation as a contributing factor in his 12-year-old son’s suicide.

The situation in Clark County could have been worse. Over the summer, the district started using a monitoring program to track how students were using their district-issued iPads. That system has generated thousands of alerts. It flagged one 12-year-old student searching for “how to make a noose,” according to a news report. District officials were able to contact the father, who found the boy with a noose around his neck. Since then, the only clue the boy has given for what led him to such desperation is an oft-stated comment, “I miss my friends.”

This is a five-alarm crisis. Check in on your kids and grandkids. Get them out of the house. Take them to meet friends. Talk with a pastor, counselor or other professional if you’re at all worried about their mental health. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you sense someone is struggling, experts recommend asking them directly if they’re having suicidal thoughts.

In a sane world, this evidence would cause the School Board to convene an emergency meeting to reopen schools immediately. Union officials would beg for forgiveness for the months they spent fearmongering. If grocery clerks can go to work safely, teachers can, too.

But decisions in the real world are often driven by political clout, not data. Witness Gov. Steve Sisolak moving low-risk teachers to the front of the vaccine line without demanding they return to the classroom.

But putting political considerations over months of data has had deadly consequences for local children. Reopen the school district.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698.

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